A funny thing happened on the way from the 60’s to the 90’s. “Peace, love and understanding” and the concept of tolerance expressed in the “do you own thing” slogan evolved into the misguided doctrine of “political correctness.” And out of the muddle of “political correctness” emerged a new social group—the Easily Offended. Members of this group maintain a vigilant search for signs of a breach in the protocol of “political correctness,” especially if that breach brushes against their personal sensibilities. If they detect that breach, the offended member of this social group screams “Ah-hah! I’m offended! You have wounded me! You are guilty of crass insensitivity! You need to suffer!”
What do the Easily Offended gain by being so quick to pull the trigger blasting out a claim of outraged indignation? They think it gives them power. The offended person becomes the victim. The offender becomes the transgressor. A wrong has been committed. An obligation is now owed by the transgressor to the victim. Behavior can be controlled. All these advantages come just from saying “Hey, you offended me! Make it right!”
With “political correctness” so dominant in today’s society, the Easily Offended actually gain some initial advantage from the victim status. Most reasonable people do not want to offend and upset others. We want to be liked. And educated and sensitive people in our society understand that there are past prejudices and attitudes that need to be corrected, past injustices that need to be addressed. So victims might initially shame their offenders into an apology, and some sort of amends. But the problem now is that the number of Easily Offended and the number of potential transgressions have grown to the saturation point. Even the most sensitive have become weary of walking on eggshells, trying to self-edit every word and deed to avoid creating another victim. That weariness for many of us has turned into a hostility of our own—we say “fine, be offended, I don’t care anymore!” Our original desire to be sensitive has become jaded, with the self-editing turned off.
A great example of this is the “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Seasons Greetings” uproar. It used to be that you could say “Merry Christmas” to someone, and the person would respond “Thanks, Merry Christmas to you.” But now, the Easily Offended are turning the “Merry Christmas” greeting into an egregious crime of religious persecution. You’d better be greeting a Christian with “Merry Christmas” or you have become a religion-bigot.
I am not a rabid Christian. (See my column “Leave Your Organized Religions—And Find God.”). In the past, my wife and I have chosen to use “Happy Holidays” and “Seasons Greetings” on the greeting cards distributed at Christmas time. But the reality is that in the United States, celebrating Christmas is as much a cultural holiday as it is a religious holiday—maybe even more cultural. When the “politically correct” start to tell me I am required by some standard of let’s-not-offend-anyone etiquette to say “Seasons Greetings” and “Happy Holidays,” the “I don’t care anymore attitude” kicks in. My wife and I agreed with no argument. We put “Merry Christmas” on our Christmas cards this year.
Just to test myself, to make sure I haven’t become some agent of cultural and political oppression, I mulled over some hypotheticals. Suppose I was in Saudi Arabia and someone said “Happy Eid al-Fitr” (the feast at the conclusion of Ramadan)? Suppose I was in Israel and someone said “Happy Hanukkah”? Suppose I was in China and someone said “Happy New Year” at a time my culture does not celebrate the new year? Suppose the greeting was “Happy Year of the Cock”? Would I be offended? Would I feel a need to demand that my own religious and cultural sensibilities be given consideration because those greetings were not consistent with my own traditions? No. I’d smile and say thank you, and maybe even return the greeting. I’d be happy to be included in the person’s celebration, which the greeting does. By deciding not to be one of the Easily Offended, I have the opportunity to share some joy, instead of becoming a victim.
That is what the Easily Offended miss. Being a victim may give them a momentary illusion of power, of a debt incurred, of an advantage over the offender. But in the long run, victims don’t possess power, they lack it. They are at the mercy of the schemes and actions of others. Being a victim is a surrender of freedom and power. I will never choose to be a victim, which is why I will never be a member of the Easily Offended.
Unfortunately the ethos of the Easily Offended can lead in sinister directions. The Muslim cartoon controversy is the dark side of where this trend can lead. Deaths occurred because Muslims were offended and rioted when the Prophet Mohammed was depicted in cartoons. The people drawing these cartoons were not Muslim. There is no serious indication that they intended to offend anyone. In effect, Muslims became offended when non-Muslims violated a Muslim taboo. Is everyone in the world now required to observe every prohibition of every religion? If someone anywhere in the world breaches a taboo of anyone’s religion anywhere else in the world, should we expect the Easily Offended to riot?
I could be offended by that proposition. I could be offended by the deaths caused as a result of this extreme behavior by the Easily Offended. But I do not want to join the ranks of the Easily Offended—I might become offensive to myself! So I will exercise my power. I will choose not to be offended. This is a liberating decision. I can choose to laugh at the Easily Offended as they sneer at some silly perceived transgression. They spend most of their waking hours looking for ways to be offended. My discomfort at their disapproving sneers lasts a moment. I get to walk away. That makes me laugh. If I think beyond the laugh, I feel sad—for the Easily Offended. They have to go around feeling that way all day. So I’m not going to join the Easily Offended by letting them offend me. I’ll pity them, when I choose to think about them, and only after I’ve stopped smiling.
Richard Warren Field is the author of the upcoming novel, The Swords of Faith. For more information, go to RichardWarrenField.com.
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